The Batchwood estate was acquired from the Gorhambury estate by Edmund Beckett Denison in 1874. Denison was a man of many talents. He graduated 30th in the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge and was called to the Bar in 1842. His great interests were horology and architecture. He became president of the British Horological Institute in 1868. It was his interest in architecture, particularly ecclesiastical buildings that lead him to acquire the Batchwood estate.
He had controversially taken on the task to oversee restoration works on St Albans Abbey and St Michael’s Church and St Peter’s Church in St Albans so he built Batchwood Hall as his private residence. The Hall, complete with a clock tower, was built in the Queen Anne style had a wonderful view of the Abbey. It is said that Edmund was able to watch the restoration work through a spy glass.
In the same year, 1874, Edmund succeeded his father in the Baronetcy and, like his father before him, decided to drop the surname Denison and called himself Sir Edmund Beckett.
The rebuilding project at St Albans Abbey was directed by Edmund and undertaken at his own cost. Though saving the Abbey from collapse, he made many enemies over the work he did. Indeed he gave a verb to the English language…. ‘to Grimthorpe’, meaning to lavishly over restore without regard to taste.
With his clockmaker hat on, Sir Edmund was greatly involved with the design of the Great Clock at Westminster which is house in the tower known as ‘Big Ben’. Sir Edmund’s design of the double three-legged gravity escapement became the standard for all good turret clocks after 1859. The clock in the tower of Batchwood Hall is a miniature of the Great Clock at Westminster.
For his services to the Church (in which he was much involved on the legal side), Sir Edmund was raised to the peerage in 1886 becoming the first Baron Grimthorpe. He died in 1905 and is buried in the Abbey